This article was first published on Sept 11, 2014
"Fast delivery". "$1 maids".
Advertisements likening maids to goods are no longer seen at Katong Shopping Centre and Bukit Timah Shopping Centre, two months after the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) warned against insensitive ads.
Such demeaning banners and signs have been removed, while notices showing "maid fees" have been covered up at the two centres, which house about a dozen maid agencies each.
Also absent were rows of maids usually seen seated outside the agencies, a practice which MOM had deemed "unacceptable".
Mr Bernard Ryan, operations director of Maids & Manpower Agency, used to have his agency fees and the biodata of maids displayed on his shop window but has since removed them.
Maid agents told The Straits Times MOM officers had visited a few times over the last month to ensure they follow the guidelines.
An MOM spokesman said its officers had talked to maid agents after it issued an advisory in July, asking them to ensure all ads accord maids "basic respect and human dignity".
"(Agencies) that were observed not to be in compliance with the advisory were receptive to the advice given by our officers and readily complied," she said.
Ms May Phua, general manager of May Myanmar Services, for example, knew she was not supposed to publicise her fees but did not realise that a sign bearing the phrase "fast arrival" was also prohibited.
"He (MOM officer) told me that it suggests that the maids are like commodities," she said. She later used masking tape to cover up the sign.
MOM had issued the guidelines after Arab news agency Al Jazeera reported in June that maids were displayed or marketed like commodities by some agencies here. It cited the Katong and Bukit Timah shopping centres as places where such practices were seen.
Maid businesses that did not resort to the questionable marketing tactics have welcomed MOM's move. They said this not only ensures maids are treated with more respect, but also levels the playing field.
"At least now potential employers will actually walk around to find an agency that can best meet their needs," said Madam Sa'diah Saidi, sales manager at Aflah Employment Agency.
"In the past, they will just walk straight to those which promise low prices."
As for migrant worker welfare groups, they said the agencies' change of ways was a good sign, but also raised other concerns.
For instance, several agencies at the two centres still had maids doing household chores in mock living rooms visible from the outside, ostensibly for training purposes.
The women, while seated in and not outside the shops, still faced passers-by.
Mr Jolovan Wham, executive director of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, said these practices, while not specially mentioned in the MOM advisory, seemed degrading to maids.
"What kind of training is this if someone is just pushing the wheelchairs aimlessly?" he asked.
Another migrant worker activist noted the need to look beyond the surface for deeper change.
Mr William Chew, executive director of the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training, said: "We should also look at practices behind the scenes, whether maids are properly integrated here or whether they are provided with help when they encounter problems with their employers."